WATSONVILLE — Dressed in a light tan suit, Dave Kegebein, who has led a committee of volunteers in keeping the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds running since the beginning of 2012, looked a little uncomfortable as he accepted the award for Event of the Year during the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture’s 51st Annual Awards Dinner and Auction.
Kegebein, a strawberry grower for Driscoll’s who is generally dressed in overalls or shorts, even acknowledged his discomfort in his attire.
“So you know its a big deal for the Santa Cruz County Fair if I put on one of these,” he said.
It was not only a big night for the fairgrounds, but for the community at large. The chamber, which has struggled over the past 10 years, had the largest turnout for the dinner in recent memory, with the Crosetti Building at the fairgrounds
, festooned in Mardi Gras decorations, basically filled.
Man of the Year Willy Elliott McRea, Woman of the Year Georgeann Cowles Eiskamp, Organization of the Year Pajaro Rescue Mission/Monterey Bay Teen Challenge, and Business of the Year S. Martinelli & Co. were also honored. Bruce Woolpert, the CEO of Graniterock who was killed in a boating accident in 2012, was posthumously honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Elliottt McRea, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank, thanked his staff for their strong support and hard work.
“This is really about all the volunteers who work at the Second Harvest,” he said.
Cowles Eiskamp, a local berry farmer involved in a variety of philanthropic projects, thanked a number of people, but gave special tribute to Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau Director Jess Brown, who she praised as a mentor and community leader.
Following all the recognition for nonprofit work, John Martinelli of S. Martinelli & Co. received the award for Business of the Year, noting that somebody had to be a capitalist amongst all the nonprofits. He said the economic downturn had created a lot of stress at the company, which was facing layoffs and other measures.
“It looked pretty bad,” he said.
But the company made some financial maneuvers, got its juice into some additional markets, and business is doing well.
“We’re moving ahead,” Martinelli said. “We do feel appreciated by this community. We love Watsonville and are here to stay.”
Photo by Jerry Pattee